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Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing loses ground at home under Beijing's wrath, as rivals keep climbing

Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing has been slowly losing its market dominance since last summer, when Beijing forced the removal of dozens of its apps from app stores and banned the company from taking new users, according to data from China's Ministry of Transport and other third-party research institutions.

Didi orders fell 4.6 per cent in March from the previous month, the transport ministry's latest figures show. By comparison, rival Cao Cao Mobility, backed by carmaker Geely, saw its orders jump 26.4 per cent. The ministry's numbers do not cover all of Didi's services.

The weakened position of a technology giant once seen as indomitable threatens further losses for investors after Didi's stock has plunged to below US$2.50 over the past week from its initial public offering price of US$14 last year. An unsettled Chinese cybersecurity investigation, launched days after its New York Stock Exchange listing last June against warnings from regulators, and a plan to delist in the US without having a new listing lined up elsewhere continue to weigh on the company and have dampened confidence in Chinese tech stocks.

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Since its US$4.4 billion IPO, Didi's order volume plummeted by 29 per cent through March, according to a calculation of monthly growth rate figures published by the transport ministry.

This has left an opening for rivals. Cao Cao saw orders grow 34 per cent in the same period, according to the ministry's data. Orders at T3, which is backed by state-owned companies, more than doubled.

Still, Didi has held on to a considerable market lead. The ministry does not publish the absolute numbers for orders, but market research firm QuestMobile estimates that Didi had 80.7 million monthly active users (MAUs) by the end of 2021, a 20 per cent year-on-year decline. Cao Cao and T3 had just 6.6 million and 11.5 million MAUs, respectively. For those companies, though, it is a remarkable ascent, with 65 per cent growth for Cao Cao and 125 per cent for T3, according to QuestMobile.

Didi said in a statement on Saturday that it will have a special shareholder meeting on May 23 to vote on its "voluntary" delisting plan from the NYSE. Meanwhile, it will not apply for a listing "on any other stock exchange" before completion of the delisting to "cooperate with the cybersecurity review and rectification measures". In December, the company said it was planning to list in Hong Kong while delisting in New York.

"If the proposed IPO rule can be finalised and released soon, Didi may be able to start its Hong Kong listing, or offshore elsewhere, later this year under the new offshore IPO regime", said Winston Ma, an adjunct professor at NYU Law School, referring to the China Securities Regulatory Commission's proposed rules in December for domestic companies' offshore listings.

The company's net losses widened to 49.3 billion yuan (US$7.7 billion) last year, three times its losses in 2020, according to its unaudited financial data. The firm reported total revenue of 40.8 billion yuan (US$6.4 billion) for the fourth quarter of 2021, a decline of 12.6 per cent compared with the same period a year prior.

"If Didi can successfully delist in May and then have its apps resumed in app stores, it may still earn some advantage in the competition," said Yu Bin, a Chinese tech blogger who follows the company. "Its rivals have grown fast, but Didi's user base is far bigger."

Meanwhile, China has been tightening control over the ride-hailing business, making it increasingly hard for platforms like Didi to profit from their primary service of connecting drivers with passengers.

Legally, drivers are required to be certified to offer such services in China. However, among 18 major ride-hailing platforms with 300,000 orders or more last month, Didi's main app and budget ride-hailing product Huaxiaozhu ranked 17th and 18th, respectively, in terms of regulatory compliance.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.